The country is generally mountainous, being traversed by lofty ranges of the Atlas system, which run nearly parallel to the coast, and rise in some plases to the height of upwards of 7000 feet. These are commonly divided into two leading chains, which are distinguished as the Great and Little Atlas. The former, which is the more southern and bordering on the Sahara, contains some of the highest points in the country. The Little Atlas or Maritime Atlas, as it is sometimes called, lies between the sea and the Great Atlas, and is composed of numerous diversified ranges generally of no great elevation. A number of smaller chains lie between these principal ones, and also between the latter and the sea, forming so many ascending steps or degrees. These principal ranges are connected by numerous transverse ones, thus forming extensive table-lands and elevated valleys, with no connection between them but the intervening heights. Occasionally the principal ranges are broken by deep defiles and narrow valleys. The maritime region presents numerous narrow valets, each carrying down to the sea its mountain stream. In some parts the mountains rise abruptly from the sea, in others a tract of flat land intervenes between the mountains and the coast, and this is usually marshy, but sometimes fertile and well cultivated. There are a number of extensive plains near the coast, one of the most important of which is that of Metidja, commencing on the eastern side of the bay of Algiers, and stretching thence inland to the south and west. It is about 60 miles in length by 10 or 12 in breadth. Another great alluvial plain extends south and west for many miles from the vicinity of Bona. A third similar plain lies to the southeast and southwest of Oran, and south of Mostaganem is the plain of Shellif. The coast is generally steep and rocky, abounding in capes and gulfs, but very deficient in good harbours, and even in secure roadsteads, in consequence of its exposure to the north winds.
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